Posted on Thursday 15 November 2012 by Ulster Business

Felix Baumgartner

Dylan wrote the album The Times They are a-Changin' back in 1964. There is no doubt that back then the times certainly were a-changin'.

Fast forward to 2012. The rate and pace of change in global trade, communications, politics, culture and technology is, like Felix Baumgartner, about to break the sound barrier.

On Felix, and his space diving exploits, what strikes me most is not so much the jump, although that was spectacular, as the fusion of global trade, communications, culture and technology in the jump. In that jump, and in that fusion, the essential element was marketing.

The jump was part of a global brand narrative: 'Red Bull Gives You Wings'. Red Bull has built its story around extreme sports and innovation. With the jump, the brand ascended with Felix to new heights and, in doing so, transcended how brands relate to us. The spin-off from the jump in space travel innovation and in inspiring millions, took the Red Bull brand as a social construct into the realms of higher order benefits way above the often timid concept of corporate social responsibility.

Eight million concurrent views of the spectacle on YouTube are testament to its digital reach and impact, tied up in the minds of millions with the Red Bull brand. Red Bull didn't take the usual marketing route of interrupting time-constrained and data-bombarded people with an unwanted message. For most of us time is increasingly becoming our most precious resource, constantly depleted by the sheer volume of data we are exposed to on a daily basis. Eric Schmidt of Google fame commented that every two days as much information is created as from the start of civilization to 2003. Marketers, who attempt to encroach upon our time with non-relevant interruptions among the throng of other marketing interruptions, will not incur our interest or spend. Red Bull gained our time and permission to engage by capturing our imagination. With exposure predicted to be worth up to £100m for the brand, it's a case of move over Madison Avenue.

The digital heart of Baumgartner's jump and Red Bull's 'extreme marketing' is significant to me. Marketing practice is being significantly affected by the digitisation of our lived experiences and the opportunities that provides. Take 3D printing, a veritable digitisation of manufacturing that is creatively locating within online communities, offering collaborative designs to take forward to production. We are moving ever closer, for example, to having the ability to print off a Smartphone using a 3D printer incorporating the chips, antenna and other three-dimensional components. A feature edition of the Economist has gone so far as to relate digital manufacturing, including 3D printing, robotics and collaboration online, to a third industrial revolution. Desktop 3D printers in homes! Marketers – imagine what value co-creation could take place around innovative designs firms email to consumers for production in their own homes? This is an example of what marketing academics have identified as a move away from mass production and mass marketing based on transactional relationships with customers, towards more individualised approaches based on relationships with often single customers based on value co-creation. The old four P's of marketing are becoming largely redundant, with firms co-creating value propositions through on-going customer conversations facilitated by digital technologies.

In the climatic lines of the final verse of Dylan's title song The Times They are a-Changin', he quips "the order is rapidly fadin". With Felix and his jump, the irresistible march of digital into every facet of our lives, and the sophistication and empowerment of consumers, the old marketing order is rapidly fading. The challenge for marketers is to ensure the new order is able to have relevance for firms and customers in our digital world. Like Felix, we have to jump and, like Felix, leaving behind what is familiar and known is not always easy!


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